Neil Sharpson’s Knock Knock, Open Wide is a dizzying blend of Celtic folklore, gruesome terror and family drama. Gripping, funny and touching, it’s sure to please anyone looking for a horror-mystery with heart.
The story begins when a young Irish woman Etain Larkin discovers the corpse of a man in the middle of the road. Desperate for help, she takes the body to the nearest farmhouse. If she hadn’t stopped, hadn’t taken the body to this one specific home, she would have escaped a night of true horror. Twenty years later, Etain’s daughter, Ashling, is traumatized by her mother’s alcoholism and paranoia. Ashling has started a relationship with her schoolmate Betty, but she can’t let her fully in until she finds answers to explain her family’s terrible past. Ashling has nightmares about “Puckeen,” a well-loved children’s television show in which an unseen entity in a black box serves as a warning for misbehaving kids. But are the dreams just dreams, or something more?
Knock Knock, Open Wide is inspired by Celtic myths and legends, but Sharpson heightens the dread by refusing to explain every strange or terrible thing. Knock Knock, Open Wide shifts from funny and touching to outright terrifying in the blink of an eye, keeping the reader in a suspended state of unease. At any moment, Ashling and Betty might encounter something like “hungry grass,” a patch of cursed earth where someone starved to death. Sharpson bounces from past to present and shifts character perspectives with each chapter as he slowly unspools the mystery of what’s haunting Etain and Ashling, a structural choice that emphasizes the generational trauma the mother-daughter duo can’t seem to escape.
Ashling and Betty’s tender relationship grounds the book when it needs it most, offering a gentle counterpoint to the eerie goings-on. There are a few moments of plot contrivance where they abstain from exchanging key pieces of information, but the couple is so believable and lovable together that one is happy to overlook such a detail.
Knock Knock, Open Wide compellingly juggles various tones, structures and plot threads to produce a skillful examination of familial pain.